OPP Interviews: Dr. Sally Mallowa from Augustana University


Post seminar interview with Dr. Sally Mallowa, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Augustana University (South Dakota, USA). Sally delivered a talk on, Technology driven cassava pest management on the 4th of May 2020

Lisa Rothmann https://twitter.com/LandbouLisa

Dr. Sally Mallowa, from Kenya, is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Augustana University (South Dakota, USA). Currently her focus is on science communication, advocacy and mentoring. Sally delivered a talk on, Technology driven cassava pest management on the 4th of May at the #OPPVirtualSeminars.

OPP: How did you find your experience presenting for the OPP Virtual Seminar? Any advice to future virtual seminar presenters?

It was unusual to have no audience and not have the audience feedback to gauge participation and interest. During the virtual seminar you can see yourself and your presentation, this was unusual, make sure you get comfortable with this if this is something new to you. I found it to be a good motivator and challenge because the audience was much wider than only specific members of the cassava industry. Provide sufficient context and a balanced approach to the background information for a general audience. Avoid field-specific jargon or abbreviations, acronyms of diseases or institutions, this put this into. Practice a lot, maybe even more than you would normally.

OPP: Could you explain a little how you got involved with cassava research and what is your current involvement?

I am from a cassava growing village, yet was ignorant to the existing management efforts. Resistant varieties of cassava mosaic disease was not something we were exposed to in my village. During my master’s program at Egerton University, Njoro, Kenya. I realized that the research impacts were so much more than the paper I wrote. My trials were set up in Siaya County. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in my village and wider community, seeing how our research changed the lives of those who helped maintain and harvest the trials. I was inspired that the trials were availing planting material to the community. This impact was the best reward.

As an early-career researcher, I was involved in proof of concept studies, confined field trial protocol development and pilot trials of Vircaplus, in Kenya, with one of the focuses on biofortification. Being part of an international multi-institutional project where medical doctors, nutritionists, breeders, plant pathologists, agronomists, molecular biologists and growers, opened my eyes to the benefits of collaboration. It was great to see where our project fitted into the bigger piece of the puzzle.

My doctorate research was on maize at Iowa State University. I also wrote a case study for undergraduates that stimulates students to think about the complex issues corn growers in the US Corn Belt face in deciding whether or not to use foliar fungicides. To translate the value of this case-study training to other pathosystems back in the field in Africa, I led a multi-institutional team that won the 2015 APS-Office of International Programs-Global Experience Award. We developed an undergraduate case study teaching resource on cassava brown streak virus disease (CBSD). This opportunity cuts across many relevant topics for undergraduate teaching - Africa, a staple crop, donor funding and research. I have been teaching a General Biology module and really seen this study open the eyes of the students (in East Africa and USA), exposing them to a different agricultural reality than their own.

In 2016 received a Next Generation Female Cassava Scientist, from GCP21 Global cassava partnership for the 21st century. That honor led me into advocacy, science communication outreach and mentoring.

OPP: How did the first users of the smartphone technology react to the proposal of using Apps and web-based management tools? Like the PlantVillage NURU App.

The first users of PlantVillage Nuru were excited about this. Phones have changed the face of Africa, within our lifetimes, the last ~20 years. Older farmers might have challenges, but the younger growers are excited and think it is cool and they are very street smart. Local regulators, extension workers and farmer group leaders are trained and this is how these technologies are disseminated within and among communities.

OPP: How do you see the seed-tracker changing the face of crop and disease management? The pilot seems successful, how will this be rolled out nationwide?

For us to have a seed system for vegetatively propagated crop, like Cassava Seed Tracker, is revolutionary. It sets up a framework on which to build other systems on. They might not be perfect but national programs see the possibility and opportunity in pockets of growing regions. Integrating growers, traders and consumers, informally people will get involved because growers build networks among themselves.

OPP: The NextGen Cassava platform is one of the projects among many that is a multinational and multi-disciplinary project. The objective is to shorten breeding cycles and improve germplasm availability/access. Why do you feel it is important to have programs like these where local knowledge is considered in the research cycle?

We see often the technology is in one part of the world while the problems for which solutions are needed are in a different place. Collaborative research such as NextGen cassava has trained people to participate in using the most relevant breeding tools, infrastructure. It has invested heavily in training and building networks, so that in future years everything can be in the same space and local scientists can generate solutions that meet the needs of their population. This allows researchers to drive their own research agenda, which is where we want to be.

OPP: You are very passionate about telling young people, juniors in primary and high school (~ages 7-18) about plant pathology?

My passion and excitement lie in where and who the change can come from in Agriculture. I came from a cassava growing community, it was something I ate. How did I not know at the time the extent of the disease problems and the effort into generating management programs. I realized that we need an education that transforms communities. We need to inspire the young people as early as primary school if we want them to grow into local leaders and farmers who will institute changes, it cannot be people from agencies or the city, or next country, they can guide and mentor.

Thinking long term is where we can make the greatest impact, this is part of developing the pipeline to feed change into communities. There are many existing programs, you do not need to start something new necessary, we can find ways to work together. Find your niche and work with an existing program, to build this pipeline.

Be the change you want to see, science has given to us, how we can give back?

OPP: I think that we can see why you are a Next Generation Researcher because you are reshaping the framework of how research is considered and how we can contribute to benefiting and honouring our own communities. Much appreciation to Sally for sharing your research with us and contributing to growing the Open Plant Pathology experience.

You can go and watch Sally’s #OPPvirtualseminar on our official YouTube channel. The slides from the presentation are stored at our OSF Project. You are also welcome to interact with us in our Slack Community on our #virtual-seminar channel. By clicking on this link you can join Open Plant Pathology on Slack.


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